In a couple of hours the Cardinals are going to take the field for their last game of this road series before returning home for six games with the Braves and Reds. (I just moved to San Diego, which means this game is starting at 9:30 a.m. I feel like I’m on Mars.) But last night the Cardinals beat the Reds 5-4 like they should. Brandon Moss got the Cardinals rolling with a two-run double to center off rookie leftie Cody Reed in the 1st. He added another double later in the game. All of this after he homered in his return to the lineup on Tuesday to tie up the game in the 8th inning – a moment that would shine a bit brighter in a perfect managerial world.
While he won’t be filling in at shortsop, an absurd sight to envision even with this defensively-challenged team, Moss’ thus far productive return has helped ease the sting of losing Aledmys Diaz. Imagine reading the last part of that sentence a year ago after Diaz was DFA’d to make room for one Dan Johnson, and then the trade of Rob Kaminsky, the Cardinals’ #4 prospect at the time, for Moss, who in Cleveland hadn’t been much more than a platoon slugger. Say hello to your 2016 St. Louis Cardinals.
Going so far as to say the Moss/Kaminsky trade was panned at the time might be a stretch but it was wildly unpopular in Cardinals’ circles as well as the circles of several well-known media members whose job it is to opine on such things. ESPN’s Keith Law called it a significant overpayment. Analyzing the trade a year later after a deadline in which several teams gave away top prospects in exchange for top-shelf relief pitching makes the Moss-Kaminsky swap seem so much more benign. But at this time a year ago it felt like a big gamble, or even a panic move to supplant the production of a re-injured Matt Holliday.
When dealt, Kaminsky had a 2.09 ERA in High A and was striking out over 20% of batters faced. Moss had a 89 wRC+ in 375 plate appearances with the Tribe. Moss hit better across the board for the Cardinals for the rest of 2015 (.250/.344/.409) but not enough so to quell a lot of the lingering buyer’s remorse felt by fans.
It should probably be gone now though. Kaminsky has endured a mostly pedestrian season with the AA Akron RubberDucks (that’s a fantastic name, by the way), with a 3.70 ERA and 3.91 FIP in 99.2 innings pitched. Although, and relying solely on stats here, he’s been quite good lately. Since June 19, he has a 2.47 ERA, 3.32 FIP, and is striking out nearly 19% of batters in 54.2 total innings.
Moss, however, in 2016 has provided the Cardinals with much needed offense. Not necessarily needed because this team is bereft of offensive threats - that’s clearly not the case - but needed because when you’re in the lower half of the league defensively and at base running as the Cardinals are, out-slugging the other team is at least a healthy option.
Following yesterday’s game, Moss is hitting .268/.351/.592, good for a wRC+ of 148. Still a platoon slugger, but he’s shredding righties (.284/.371/.698; 178 wRC+) and remains capable of playing three spots in the field. He’s been so useful that the idea of extending him a qualifying offer after his contract expires this offseason could be worthwhile.
Contrast this with a pitching prospect who isn’t blowing through the ranks and I think it’s fair to say the Cardinals won this trade. And to look at it from another angle, Howard Megdal wrote the Cardinals essay in the 2015 Baseball Prospectus Annual and touched upon another Cardinals/Indians trade - the Justin Masterson/James Ramsey swap - and noted how trading Ramsey was an “act of grace” by the Cardinals, freeing him from what was then a very crowded outfield. Looking at Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver, and Jack Flaherty at the top of the Cardinals’ prospect list and they may have been doing Kaminsky the same favor.
Ironically, in the end I don’t want the Cardinals to win this trade. I’d prefer Kaminsky to eventually make the majors and have a long productive career as a middle of the rotation guy as he was projected early on. That won’t diminish Moss’ contributions to the 2016 Cardinals, a year in which every contribution might be needed for the club to make their sixth straight postseason.